There is not much I can write about Hayao Miyazaki that hasn’t been written before, or his sense of animation that is simply exemplary. It is detailed, very realistic in spite of the heavy use of watercolors and animation, and most of the times, aesthetically beautiful.
The characters in his films are well-rounded and interesting. The treatment of his female characters in particular is not like most other filmmakers. They are given importance while also remaining fair and balanced with the male characters, treating gender as incidental. It is refreshing to watch a movie like that.
But one of the things in Miyazaki’s films that is endlessly captivating is how he weaves food into his stories. Indeed, for years Miyazaki’s films have been peppered with beautiful references related to cooking and cuisine. Numerous times throughout his films, food is a comfort — whether as a safety, a guarantee, familiarity or even as nostalgia. Cooking is an act performed out of love and duty, and not just to satisfy one’s hunger.
Hardworking Young Women
In From up on Poppy Hill, the character Umi cooks food for the entire household, and is quite good at it. She prepares her own elaborate lunches to take to school daily. Even something as simple as spooning rice out of a container is not devoid of the steam that the rice is producing.
A simple breakfast of ham, eggs and vegetables shows the communal eating that Umi was responsible for, seeing as her mother was away studying in America. We see her dream of her mother in the kitchen, showing both Umi’s fear and her need for a parenting figure. It was in the act of cooking where her mother’s love was most missed. The people of the household depended on Umi for delicious food, and she yearned for that same dependence on her mother, especially during times of distress.
However, she remains dependable with her daily cooking at home, and is sometimes the only person to be on kitchen duty. In fact, it is noted that her school extracurricular activities were a hindrance to her duties at home, and in spite of that Umi remains determined to get it all done, managing to accomplish both tasks every day. This determination makes Umi instantly likable. This familiar theme of a hardworking young women is repeated in a lot of Miyazaki films — even in Ponyo, in the form of Lisa, Sosuke’s mother.